Suddenly on the run for No. 1

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It was a beautiful July afternoon in Chicago in 1989 when my career took a sudden detour.

At the time, I was VP-group publisher for Crain Communications Inc., a reward for having served a successful 10 years as publisher of Crain's Chicago Business. That kind of position gives one a few perks. So there I was, attending the summer outing of the Chicago Ad Federation in the western suburbs.

I was enjoying a bit of tennis at the outing. In fact, I was playing some of the best tennis of my life and was ready to play in the finals of the doubles tournament. That's when someone hollered my name. There was a telephone call for me.

The caller was Rance Crain, the company president and editor in chief of Advertising Age. He had some startling news: The publisher and associate publisher of Ad Age were leaving the company together to join another marketing publication (which no longer exists).

"Joe," Rance said, "I want you to take over the publisher's job. You have the experience and the contacts in the advertising business to make it work. We're making the announcement tomorrow morning to the staff, and you have to be in New York for that."

I didn't tell Rance until much later that when he called I was at least 25 miles from my home and was wearing sweaty tennis clothes. I wasn't looking to be publisher of Ad Age, but it was very difficult to resist Rance's enthusiasm, so I agreed to do it.

Since it was already 4 p.m., I called my secretary and told her to book an evening flight for me to New York and to get me a hotel room. Then I called my wife and asked her to set out a suit, shirts, socks, etc. and surprised her with the news that I was leaving town that night.

I got to my hotel about 1 a.m. the next morning and was in the office before 9:00, bleary-eyed, but ready to take on the challenge.

It turned out to be more challenging than I could have imagined. I ended up spending three out of four weeks in New York or on the road for the next couple of years while my family was back in Chicago. But it turned out to be a frightening-frustrating-exhilarating adventure for me during which I learned a lot about the advertising business, enough so that I eventually wrote a book about the industry and since I retired, have taught a graduate course in advertising.

And there's one other thing. Immediately after getting that call from Rance, I went back onto the tennis court and helped my partner win that tournament.

Joe Cappo is the author of "The Future of Advertising: New Media, New Clients, New Consumers in the Post-Television Age" and is an adjunct professor in the communications department at DePaul University. He held numerous posts for Crain Communications Inc., including publisher of Advertising Age from 1989-93.

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